How do a mental block and exercise link?

A mental block can stop exercise

How does a mental block stop you from exercising?
You want to exercise but that mental block gets in the way.

Is a mental block the thing that’s stopping you from exercising? You know that you need to exercise for your healthy aging. And you have every intention of starting an exercise program. You’ve made a mental note of the exercises you want to do, or the workout video you want to try, but something keeps getting in the way. Every day. For two weeks. Your mindset just isn’t right, and you can’t figure out why it’s so hard. But how does a mental block and exercise link up?

You may even have changed into your exercise clothes, laced up your sneakers, but then you find something else to do. And then it’s time to start dinner. Or get ready for an appointment. And the opportunity to exercise is lost.

How does a mental block happen?

“When talking specifically about exercising — mental blocks are often associated with a lack of motivation that is in turn associated with a lack of vision,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of Behavioral Health Therapy at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital, Wauwatosa, WI. “The vision of what it means to exercise and how you measure success has to be clear. This makes it naturally reinforcing.”

Dr. Barakat seems to mean that deep down, you really don’t want to exercise. And I get that. I really, really dislike the act of exercising. I don’t like being sweaty or breathing hard. And when my muscles are shaky, like at the end of an intense aerobic workout, it almost feels like something is wrong. But I work out. I exercise. I push play on my DVD player, cueing up a workout video four or five times a week. Even though I don’t like to do it.

Because I do like the results. I like being able to do things I want to do, when I want to do them – without waiting for help. I like being able to walk anywhere I want. I like being able to train my dogs every day.

Your “measure of success” may be different than mine. And that’s great. Your next step, then, is to picture yourself on the way to that success. Formulate your goals and a path to get there. (I’ve written about goals, how to make them, and how to follow through, before.)

Other causes of mental blocks

Experts at the Sage Neuroscience Center say that another cause of mental blocks can include anxiety. I’ve felt this, certainly. If you’re anxious about something that’s going on in the world – either close to you or on the other side of the globe – this can cause massive indecision. Anxiety can paralyze you into indecision, making it impossible for you to actually do anything.

Another cause can be decision fatigue. You’ve had to make a lot of decisions lately, and making one more – like which exercise program to do – is just one too many. So you don’t make any decision. 

Remedies for an exercise mental block

Again, one solution can be to decide on a goal – like exercise four days this week for a half hour, walking and doing a workout video on alternating days. Schedule those workouts for the week. Keep to your calendar – when your exercise appointment comes up, keep that appointment! And on Sunday, schedule next week’s workouts.

If you want to go a bit deeper, get out your journal and write down the things you think are keeping you from exercising. Write down the things you’re anxious about. Sometimes the act of writing helps your brain to process, and helps you think of a solution to your blocks.

Go ahead – release some endorphins

Tired of feeling glum?

People I talk to every day are tired. Tired of the same old, same old. It’s the same routine every day and people are bored. We need to feel happier, feel less anxiety and less stress. We need that mood-lifter, that happiness booster. What we all need is to release some endorphins! 

Still a stressful time

It’s true that more people are going to more places now – they feel that COVID is everywhere, so they might as well see some different sights – but people are still feeling the stress. The authorities are recommending masks indoors in public places again, and people are tired of that. No matter how necessary it is, I’m tired of the mask routine too – juggling glasses, keys and mask as I run all the endless errands. 

Give your brain a boost

I’ve written about how exercise can release endorphins – how that runner’s high is no myth. Did you know, though, that those endorphins attach to our opioid receptors? No wonder we feel that boost! When we exercise, our brain releases certain proteins which help improve our brain’s plasticity, helping it to change in a positive way. We’re concerned about healthy aging, and improving our mental state certainly helps us.

Cardio needed to release some endorphins

I'm releasing some endorphins, running on the treadmill.
I’m releasing some endorphins

It’s been shown that these proteins are released mostly when we do steady-state cardiovascular work for a longer period of time. So, running for 2 minutes on a treadmill won’t elicit this positive change. 20 minutes, on the other hand, probably will. I know I feel it. Longer duration aerobics is not easy, so it helps to make it as fun as possible. I listen to audiobooks to take my mind off of the work. On days that I don’t run, I do one of my videos that combine aerobics and weight training.

Other long-duration cardio exercises

You may not choose to run – going for a long walk (not a stroll) is another great way to release some endorphins. Or take your dog for a walk. Find a friend to take an exercise class with – either at a gym or online. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Set your happiness to music

From cognitive to physical benefits in healthy aging, set your happiness to music.
Set your happiness to music – I will!

I’ve written frequently about ways to get happier (most recently in “Five Ways to Maintain Positivity”) and I’ve mentioned music as a way to motivate yourself to exercise. But music also has a close link to other brain benefits! Your happiness and music are linked!

Tunes for healthy aging

One thing that all of us are concerned with is our healthy aging. And if something can keep our brain healthy, and that something is as wonderful as music – it should be a no-brainer to put some tunes on. Studies in both healthy older adults and stroke patients have shown that making music has a positive effect on cognitive status in healthy aging.

Improved mental health

In fact, a study by the Global Council of Brain Health showed improvements in cognitive function and mental health of those who actively listen to music. Similarly, those who listened to music regularly also reported lower levels of anxiety and depression. Another study showed that upbeat background music can improve our processing speed and memory improves with either upbeat or downbeat background music.

So, music will help you feel happier and also can help you remember things. Calm me down and increase my optimism? All good reasons to set your happiness to music. Use music for your body and your brain: your exercise and your emotions. 

Music instead of white noise

I had been putting on my white noise machine instead of music. Where I work gets impossibly still and quiet, which makes me crazy – listening to the noises in my head (tinnitus). But I think I’ll be putting my favorite Pandora station into my earphones, and only put the white noise on when I need to write. But if having background music on will help me process things faster and improve my memory, I’m all for it. 

What’s your favorite kind of music to have in the background?

No limit to the benefits of exercise

The benefits of exercise are many.
Lifting those weights keeps my bones and muscles strong.

It’s no secret that I exercise multiple times a week. I exercise mostly so that I can do the things I really want to do. Like walk around a store (or a theme park) and run Agility with my dog. But there is no limit to the benefits of exercise in other areas of my life. Like mental clarity. More benefits are sleeping better, and keeping my bones and muscles strong. 

Benefits of exercise to the heart

And the benefits to the heart from exercise have been proven to be limitless. A recent study from the University of Oxford with 90,000 participants showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease was lower in those who were the most active. Five years after the study participants were still benefiting from exercise. 

Daily exercise is crucial for cardiovascular health, blood pressure control, weight loss and overall physical fitness. The researchers also determined that those who exercised had the healthiest BMI (body mass index), were least likely to smoke, and had lower alcohol intake. That’s not surprising. What was surprising, though, was that there was no limit to the cardiovascular benefit the participants received from exercising. “Results showed both moderate and vigorous physical activity drove down instances of cardiovascular disease.”  So – keep exercising and your heart keeps getting the benefits.

Not easy to maintain the level of exercise

It’s not easy to maintain a moderate or vigorous level of exercise a few times a week, though. Just knowing the benefits of exercise is not enough to make you put on your sneakers. Just like with New Year’s resolutions: many people are fired up at the start of the year to “get fit,” and their motivation may last for a few weeks, but they lose interest after a while. They may know the benefits of working out – that’s why they start an exercise in the first place, but that’s not enough to keep them going.

Know your “why”So, as I’ve said before – know your motivator. There must be something that compels you to get on the stationary bike, or climb those stairs, or get on the mat a few times a week besides the benefits to your heart. This is especially important for healthy aging. Know what motivates you, so that you can keep exercising and reap those benefits.